“Bride of Chaotica!”
Written by Bryan Fuller & Michael Taylor
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Season 5, Episode 12
Production episode 207
Original air date: January 27, 1999
Captain’s log. Paris and Kim are playing Captain Proton on the holodeck, starting up a new chapter called “Bride of Chaotica!” They have to rescue Constance Goodheart from Doctor Chaotica’s clutches. However, there’s a subspace distortion in the program.
The holodeck isn’t responding to voice commands or to hardly any other commands, but Paris is able to access the transporter and beam himself and Kim off the holodeck.
Voyager has come to a complete stop. They’re in a region where the barrier between space and subspace is frayed—Torres calls is a “subspace sandbar.” Every attempt to power out of it fails, and several systems are offline, others—like the holodeck—they have no control over.
Remembering a time when they navigated through a proto-nebula when she served on the al-Batani, Janeway suggests trying to inch through with thrusters. Meanwhile, on the holodeck, where the Captain Proton program is still running, two photonic beings come through the subspace ruptures. They take on the form of two men in suits to adapt to the environment, and meet up with Chaotica. It goes badly, and Chaotica has his henchman Loznak shoot the aliens. One is killed while the other escapes.
Three days pass for no good reason that the script can bother to provide. (It really shouldn’t take three days to shut down the warp drive.) Several systems are offline, including most of the lavatories and sonic showers. Paris’s attempt to inch through the sandbar works at first, but not for long. Then Tuvok detects weapons fire on the holodeck.
Tuvok and Paris go to the holodeck to investigate. They find a lot of dead bodies—including that of Constance. This raises red flags for Paris: it’s a 1930s Hollywood production, the good guys never died. They find Satan’s Robot (“Naturally,” Tuvok says dryly) and repair him. He says aliens from the Fifth Dimension have arrived, which they soon realize is how the Captain Proton characters are interpreting the subspace distortions.
The photonic alien approaches Tuvok, Paris, and Satan’s Robot. The alien doesn’t understand the notion of chemical, carbon-based life-forms—to him, all life is photonic, and he assumes that Tuvok and Paris aren’t real.
They brief Janeway. They can’t just shut down the holodeck while they’re stuck in the sandbar, but maybe they can play it out. Paris suggests helping the aliens defeat Chaotica. They’d need someone on the inside to lower the lightning shield so Proton’s destructo-beam can destroy Chaotica’s death ray. The plot of the chapter they were doing involved Chaotica finally consummating his desired partnership with Queen Arachnia, so Paris suggests that Janeway play the role of Arachnia, get him to lower the lightning shield, and the day will be saved.
Janeway is reluctant at first, but finally goes along with it. In addition, Seven suggests the EMH, who is also a photonic life form, talk to the aliens. Torres adjusts the mobile emitter so that the EMH will look like the President of Earth. He negotiates with the aliens, getting them to agree to an alliance.
As Arachnia, Janeway pretends to agree to marry Chaotica, and asks that the wedding be broadcast to her troops, as it will help morale. Chaotica soon realizes that she is going to betray him, and secures her. However, she uses her bottle of pheromones to make Lonzak her love slave, and he frees her. She is able to bring down the lightning shield, Paris fires the destructo-beam, the death ray is destroyed, and all is well. The aliens return to their home dimension, Voyager is freed from the sandbar, and continues on its way home.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Photonic beings don’t register as life signs on the sensors constructed by carbon-based beings, leading those carbon-based beings to not think of photonic beings as real. However, the reverse holds true as well: photonic beings don’t pick up carbon-based life on their scanners, don’t really understand the notion of carbon-based beings, and think they’re simulations.
There’s coffee in that nebula! While Janeway cosplaying as Arachnia (deservedly) gets most of the attention, note must be made of her epic conversation with Neelix that starts with her very fervent demand for coffee and her equally fervent demand that nobody speak to her until she’s drunk some of it.
Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok spends pretty much the entire episode snarking off the Captain Proton program, from sardonically lamenting Voyager’s lack of a death ray to wondering what the hell a resister is to his exasperated rejoinder to Paris when the latter reads the telegram from Earth:
“‘Intercepted communications between Doctor Chaotica and Arachnia. Stop. Chaotica at war with aliens from Fifth Dimension. Stop. Must strike now to disable Death Ray.'”
“Stop! Please summarize the message.”
Half and half. Torres is the one who coins the phrase “subspace sandbar,” and she also has the task of adjusting the EMH’s program so he blends into the Captain Proton scenario.
Forever an ensign. Kim at various points complains about the inaccuracy of the “previously on” segments before each chapter, as well as the repetitive sets.
Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix has one of the vanishingly few mentions of bathrooms on Star Trek, as he has the lucky duty of informing Janeway that the toilets and showers are mostly on the fritz. Janeway charges him with coming up with a pooping schedule.
Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH relishes the role of playing the President of Earth, probably because it gives him the chance to make some really terrible jokes, the most groanworthy being his comment that his performance was unimpeachable.
Resistance is futile. Seven’s commentary on the scenario is more pointed even than Tuvok’s: “It seems your infantile scenario now poses a security risk.” Having said that, she shows her burgeoning sense of humor by encouraging Janeway to take the role of Arachnia thusly: “Think of it as Starfleet’s first encounter with Planet X.”
What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. The photonic aliens from the Fifth Dimension subspace think that Planet X the holodeck is real and that the stuff outside the holodeck is some kind of weird fake simulation.
“The destructo-beam on my rocket ship can disable the death ray, but only if someone gets inside the Fortress of Doom and can shut down the lightning shield.”
–Paris, who really did say all that with a straight face.
Welcome aboard: Martin Rayner returns as Chaotica from “Night.” He’ll return to the role (as promised at the episode’s end) in “Shattered.” Also back from “Night” is the uncredited Kirsten Turner as Constance Goodheart.
Nicholas Worth plays Loznak; he previously was on two DS9 episodes as a Lissepian (“Progress“) and a Finnean (“A Simple Investigation“). Jim Kretsalude plays the photonic alien, while regular extra Tarik Ergin—who mostly plays Ayala, a former Maquis crew member—gets to be the robot, and he totally steals the episode.
Trivial matters: Besides just the general desire to do an episode involving the Captain Proton holodeck scenario, this episode was specifically prompted by a fire on the bridge set that necessitated doing an episode with very few scenes on the bridge—and those scenes were shot weeks after the rest of the episode.
Kim comments that the planet they’re on looks familiar, and Paris notes that sets are expensive, and so they reused them in the movie serials. This is a nifty bit of meta-commentary, since they were using the “planet hell” set that TNG, DS9, and Voyager had recycled many many times since 1987…
Janeway was established as having served on the U.S.S. al-Batani (under Paris’ Dad, no less) in “Caretaker.”
This is only the second time a Trek episode has had an exclamation point as part of the title, the previous one being “Operation—Annihilate!” on the original series. However, several novels used that punctuation as part of their title: Spock Must Die! by James Blish, Spock, Messiah! by Theodore R. Cogswell & Charles A. Spano Jr., Vulcan! by Kathleen Sky, Dreadnought! and Battlestations! both by Diane Carey, Distress Call! by William Rotsler, and the Invasion! crossover.
Set a course for home. “Fool! You will pay for your incompetence!” I often say that the warp factor rating is the least important part of any rewatch entry, and I stand by that, as the ratings are pretty arbitrary and don’t really take nuance into account.
And never more so than here (ironically in an episode pretty much devoid of nuance), because I am giving this episode a 10. Is it truly one of the greatest Star Trek episodes ever produced? Probably not. But I don’t care because this is one of my absolute favorite episodes of Star Trek ever produced. I laughed throughout, pausing occasionally to note the cleverness of the script, and ended the episode suffused with joy.
It helps that I have massive affection for the ridiculous movie serials of the 1930s and 1940s that Captain Proton is lampooning. The cheesy sets, the hilarious nomenclature, the over-the-top acting—I adore that stuff, and the Proton holodeck program in general and this episode in particular are magnificent tributes to it. The best part is the music—David Bell absolutely nails the incidental music of the period.
On top of that, I like that this holodeck-gone-mad story isn’t actually about the holodeck failing or endangering the crew. In fact, the holodeck doesn’t fail at all—okay, it can’t be turned off, but that’s just one of a myriad of malfunctions Voyager is suffering. The only reason there’s an issue is that they come across photonic aliens.
Another reason why I adore this episode is the entire notion of aliens who don’t believe that our main characters are real because they’re a type of life form they’ve never encountered before. It’s a nice reversal of, for example, “The Devil in the Dark” on the original series, where our heroes have to rejigger their notion of what life is when they encounter the Horta.
Plus, of course, the actors are all having a great time, whether it’s Robert Duncan McNeill trying to get everyone to think like they’re in a movie serial, and also growing frustrated with his own program, or Tim Russ’s ongoing disdainful commentary on the entire proceeding, or Jeri Ryan’s more direct disdain, or Robert Picardo’s diving into the part with both feet, or the magnificently over-the-top performances by Martin Rayner, Nicholas Worth, and Tarik Ergin as the holodeck characters. Ergin deserves special credit for pretty much stealing the episode with his flailing robot, a delightful sendup of robots through old-timey sci-fi screen presentations from Flash Gordon to Forbidden Planet to Lost in Space.
Best of all, though, is Kate Mulgrew’s stupendous performance as Janeway pretending to be Arachnia. Mulgrew absolutely throws herself into the part, and you can tell that both Mulgrew the actor and Janeway the character are having a blast.
This is simply an enjoyable episode of Star Trek, so much so that I don’t even care that the three-day jump makes nothing like sense or that the resolution is kind of weak. If nothing else, it’s in keeping with the movie serials being homaged/parodied, given that they were full of such things as well.
Warp factor rating: 10
Keith R.A. DeCandido did a panel on the endurance of Star Trek with fellow Trek word-slingers David Mack and Derek Tyler Attico for the Virtual Farpoint Convention last weekend. That panel has been archived on YouTube.